Ruben Navarrette

Columnist, host & author

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Opinion

Why Democrats’ immigration playbook not working with Latino voters

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Ruben Navarrette

Columnist, host & author

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In June 2012, as President Barack Obama campaigned for reelection, he ordered immigration enforcement agents to defer action against those who had arrived in the United States as children. This executive action, known as DACA, offered a path to work permits for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants. That November, Obama cruised to reelection, beating Mitt Romney with a sweep of the Latino vote.

Watch the video above as Straight Arrow News contributor Ruben Navarrette explains Obama’s success in 2012 and argues why the Democrats’ current immigration strategies to woo the Latino vote are failing in comparison.


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So, faced with a mild-mannered Romney as an opponent, Obama and Democrats very shrewdly went with Plan B. That approach meant turning attention away from Romney and focusing instead on Latino voters. The goal was to convince them that there were other issues out there they should care about besides immigration — say, health care — where Obama had semi-delivered on his other promise to reform the health care system and provide coverage to Americans who lacked it. Obama was like this hypnotist at the county fair: “Don’t think about immigration,” he’d say, “concentrate on Obamacare.”

Well, now fast forward to 2024, where another Democratic president, Joe Biden, also finds himself with a terrible record on immigration, and lackluster numbers with Latinos. The problem this time isn’t deportations. It’s the fact that Biden is duplicating Trump’s harsh immigration enforcement policies, to the point where the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued Trump, is now preparing to sue Biden.

So the Obama messaging is back, with Democrats once again trying to convince Latinos that they don’t really care about immigration and look, there are always other issues out there, and they should look instead at some of Biden’s accomplishments. I know, give me a second, I’ll think of one.

Here’s the headline. If Democrats are angry and frustrated, they can’t seem to get Latinos frightened and riled up over Trump’s newest round of immigration threats, like conducting mass deportations, while Democrats only have themselves to blame. After all, they’re the ones who taught Latinos that, hey, there are other issues out there. Don’t get hung up on immigration.


Interested in opposing perspectives? Have a look at how our other contributors view this issue from across the political spectrum:

Star Parker: Biden’s immigration policies are all for show.

Newt Gingrich: On immigration, Trump will have a mountain to climb.

Well, the year was 2012, President Obama was running for re election against Republican Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts. Obama had lost some of the support he enjoyed from Latino voters just four years earlier. Part of the reason for the hemorrhage was the fact that the President had failed miserably on the issue of immigration. Not only had Obama broken his promise to make comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to legal status for the undocumented, a top priority of his administration. He had also gone 100 mph in the opposite direction by deporting 1.6 million people, most of them Latino and then lying about it, claiming that the people he removed were all quote, gangbangers, an audit by Syracuse University would find otherwise and establish that most of the people Obama deported were mothers and fathers, housekeepers and gardeners and farm workers. That was bad. But to make matters worse, Obama found himself running against what Democrats consider the wrong kind of Republican. The kind that is not easy to demonize. Obama would no doubt have preferred to run against a fire breathing racist, anti Latino, anti immigrant, no nothing blowhard. But last in 2012, Donald Trump was not available, he was still busy hosting a reality television show. It would not be so easy for Democrats to demonize Romney, who today is after all seen as a moderate and sane Republican in the extreme and insane Trump era. By the way, Magga has even more colorful names for Romney, who they see as a squishy turncoat. On immigration. It was even more difficult to stick Romney in a right wing straitjacket. In 2012. He was going around the country talking about how our immigration system was failing America because it forced bright and promising foreign students to return to their home countries when they should stay here. Romney thought we should literally staple a green card to the student’s college diplomas. The scoundrel, how dare he tried to inject compassion and common sense into the immigration debate? What was he thinking? So faced with a mild mannered Romney as an opponent, Obama and Democrats very shrewdly went with Plan B. That approach meant turning attention away from Romney and focusing instead on Latino voters. The goal was to convince them that there were other issues out there they should care about, besides immigration, say health care, where Obama had semi delivered on his other promise to reform the health care system and provide coverage to Americans who lacked it. Obama was like this hypnotists at the county fair, don’t think about immigration, he’d say, concentrate on Obamacare. Well, now fast forward to 2024, where another Democratic President Joe Biden also finds himself with a terrible record on immigration, and lackluster numbers with Latinos. The problem this time isn’t deportations. It’s the fact that Biden is duplicating Trump’s harsh immigration enforcement policies, to the point where the American Civil Liberties Union, which Sue Trump is now preparing to sue Biden. So the Obama messaging is back with Democrats once again trying to convince Latinos that they don’t really care about immigration. And look, there are always other issues out there, and they should look instead at some of Biden’s accomplishments. I know, give me a second, I’ll think of one. Here’s the headline. If Democrats are angry and frustrated, they can’t seem to get Latinos frightened and riled up over Trump’s newest round of immigration threats, like conducting mass deportations, while Democrats only have themselves to blame. After all, they’re the ones who taught Latinos that, hey, there are other issues out there. Don’t get hung up on immigration, cut politicians some slack on that combustible issue, as long as they’re bringing down inflation or creating jobs or fighting the fight on abortion, or doing whatever else politicians do. So Trump has gotten a pass from Latinos on his most outrageous immigration policies. According to polls, he’s doing better with Latino voters now than he ever has. He could get 40% of Latino vote in November, which would make it impossible for Biden to win. Ironically, the Obama strategy which helps reelect one Democratic president in 2012 could help defeat another one in 2024.

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